Everybody in the sad second-floor courtroom could have used a little of Blair Shanahan Lane’s joy on Thursday afternoon.
Instead, the solemn hearing plodded forward as members of her family watched with an inescapable sense of loss as Aaron Sullivan, 50, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the girl’s death.
Blair, 11, had just lit a sparkler on Independence Day when a stray bullet mortally wounded her as she danced on her uncle’s lawn near Riss Lake in east Kansas City.
Carrying a tote bag emblazoned with her Blair’s photographs, her mother struggled with her emotions as she spoke afterward.
“For law enforcement, this day represents victory,” said Michele Shanahan-DeMoss. “For us, her family and her friends, this day represents justice for Blair.”
Blair, who once proposed setting up a charity — since established — to provide socks for foster children, is still giving, her mother noted. Blair’s organs went to five recipients.
“Every day, my wish is to meet all five of those people,” Shanahan-DeMoss said.
During the plea hearing, Sullivan acknowledged that he and three friends recklessly were shooting a 9mm pistol into Riss Lake near the apartment complex where he lived at 10415 E. 43rd St.
Police later estimated that Sullivan, an equipment operator, and his friends fired dozens of shots. One struck Blair in the neck about 9:15 p.m.
She was celebrating the holiday at her uncle’s house just beyond the lake and two rows of large trees in the 4300 block of Pittman Road. Blair died the next day at a hospital.
Sullivan worked part time as the pool monitor at the apartment complex.
Police questioned Sullivan after finding shell casings near a dock at the apartment complex and because he was the only employee working near the clubhouse when the shooting occurred.
When police determined that the bullet that killed Blair came from Sullivan’s pistol, he surrendered to officers with tears and remorse, police reported.
Yet the uncertainty of who fired the fatal shot persisted in Thursday’s hearing. Judge John Torrence asked Sullivan about the details of the crime, but Sullivan said he wasn’t certain.
“I don’t know if I, myself, fired the shot that took her life,” Sullivan said. “But I shot the gun.”
Prosecutors charged Sullivan because he owned the gun, which he kept in his car, and had acted with others recklessly to cause Blair’s death. Authorities did not charge the other men.
In exchange for Sullivan’s guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to drop a charge of armed criminal action. He faces up to seven years in prison and is scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 3.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said after Thursday’s hearing that she will ask for prison time.
Baker said she hopes that the Missouri General Assembly will pass legislation she calls “Blair’s Law,” which would make firing a gun in the city limits a felony.
“That will champion the issue of responsible gun ownership and not wait for an innocent child to die,” Baker said.